Exhibit Design: A Primer

It’s no secret that a sizeable number of trade show attendees seek solutions and intend to buy. Eventually, they’ll find someone to buy from. But here’s the problem. How do you make yourself that “someone” they buy from? How do you prevent potential customers from merely glancing at your exhibits while your competition develops superb business relationships with them? We developed this exhibit design guide to help out.

The secret lies in how well you can plan your exhibit design to create strong engagements. The best part about this is that you can do it regardless of size and budget. Catching and keeping the attention of potential customers at trade shows doesn’t necessarily require big booths and insane budgets. 

This exhibit design guide shows you how best to develop and design smart solutions for your brand to increase engagement during trade shows and, in turn, yield the type of results any business will be proud to have. 

Exhibit Design

Step One: Clearly Define Your Goals

As with most things in life and business, you need to clarify your goals for every single trade show. Your goals will act as your lighthouse to provide guidance throughout the design and development of a satisfying exhibit. 

Of course, every exhibitor wants to have their booths crowded with real buyers, but defining goals go beyond mere wishful thinking. Here are three simple yet practical questions that can help you hone in and clearly define your goals.

  1. How do you want your booth to come across? 
  2. What type of prospects do you want to attract?
  3. What response do you want from your audience during and after the event?

You should also consider gleaning crucial lessons from previous shows, including:

  • The category of audience you attracted and why you think they were drawn to your exhibit.
  • The barriers that repelled your ideal prospects.
  • The best ways to remove those barriers for current and future shows.

Visitor Preferences

Keep in mind that in developing an exhibit, the most important component is your targeted audience. Therefore, your goals must focus on how to reach them effectively. One way to design an effective exhibit is to understand the different visitor preferences when it comes to how they learn and absorb information. 

Generally, visitors are drawn to four different categories of content. The Smithsonian Institution grouped visitor preferences into ideas, people, objects, and physical interaction (IPOP). Here’s a quick rundown of what that means:

  1. Ideas: Visitors who lean toward abstract and conceptual thinking
  2. People: Visitors who lean toward forming emotional connections
  3. Objects: Visitors who are attracted by aesthetics and are visually inclined
  4. Physical: Visitors who prefer multi-sensory experiences

By focusing on what your target audience cares about, you will be able to steer your exhibit design in that direction. Don’t worry if it is your first time exhibiting. You can ask for attendee demographics from show managers or talk to clients willing to share their experience with you to know the pitfalls to avoid.

However, if you want your exhibits to strike gold, we suggest that you consider incorporating the IPOP model in full. 

Common Exhibit Design Goals

Individual exhibitors have their unique goals, but you can get some inspiration from the following goals that are common to most exhibitors. 

  • Launch new products
  • Enhance your brand’s perception
  • Create or raise brand awareness
  • Generate leads
  • Network within your industry
  • Strengthen relationships with existing important clients
  • Educate existing clients on novel products 

Whatever your goals are and regardless of how long your list might be, we recommend selecting the top three most important goals and get to work on them as soon as you can. Your top three goals are crucial for preparing or developing a well-thought-out exhibit design. 

Engaging Visitors

Defining your goals is a great first step, but it doesn’t stop at writing them down. You need to turn those goals into activities that will literally magnetize visitors to your exhibit. But that’s not all; the engagement should be strong enough to get your target audience to actually engage with your brand. 

The truth is, if you don’t hold visitors’ attention long enough to enter your exhibit and engage with you and your brand, your competition will. 

Apart from attracting the right audience to your exhibit, you establish an enabling environment that leads to productive conversations with targeted prospects when you focus on creating strong engagements.

Step Two: Create a Memorable Space

The next step in developing your exhibit is to create a space that leaves a lasting impression on your audience. 

The more memorable the experience is for your target prospects, the longer they will talk about it. And guess what they’ll also naturally be talking about when they share their experience at your exhibit? Your brand.

Whether yours is a simple 10' x 10' or a larger booth, implement creative designs that command attention and creates buzz. But whether you use simple and subtle messages or go with bold and provocative styles, ensure that the design links back to your brand and your audience can easily make the connection. 

Keep the following in mind as you design the physical layout of your exhibit.

  • Your goals in step one
  • The height of your booth and space configuration
  • The products you want to feature
  • The flow of foot traffic into the aisles and the exhibit
  • The location of your booth in relation to the entrance, meeting rooms, food options, and competitors

Interpretative Tools

There are a handful of interpretative tools you can use to express content. It is important to consider every available option to see which tool is best for presenting an. Remember that how you convey your message is as important as the message itself. For this reason, you want to choose your tools carefully.

The interpretative tools available for exhibit design and development include:


Use text strategically to make it more effective. A good way to use text is to keep it short and direct. Remember to present crucial messages at eye level. As much as possible, let your messages spur visitors to action, such as answering a question, interacting with your staff, or sharing an experience.

Never forget that text is only one out of many interpretative tools and should not be overused. You will not hold people’s attention for too long if all your brand messages are conveyed with text only.


The saying that a picture is worth a thousand words is true, especially in trade show exhibitions. Images illustrate concepts that are otherwise not easy to express using texts or words. Images include photos, diagrams, illustrations, charts, maps, and others.


Objects make your exhibit stand out. If you want your exhibit to have unique authenticity, give some careful thought to objects that are meaningful to your brand, and use them.

Media elements

Audio and video presentations can bring content to life, especially when used moderately.


These are digital interactives that encourage your audience to participate in the exhibit, giving them first-hand experiences. 


Models can be used to give your visitors access to things that they won’t otherwise have. For example, a very small object can be displayed in an enlarged scale model. On the other hand, huge objects can be scaled down to allow visitors to see it in its entirety.

No matter which interpretative tools you opt for, it is best not to overwhelm people with too much content. Give some room for your audience to reflect on your message. 

Creating Effective Exhibit Engagement

We strongly suggest that you implement these three effective tips on exhibit engagement to increase your chances of attracting your target audience. 


Come up with the type of creativity that gets you noticed from across the show floor. You do not have to be “loud” to be heard and seen – you only need to be creatively unique. Be sure to use sounds, shapes, and colors to draw the attention of your audience. 


Use messages that are relevant to your target audience. Keep in mind that information retention is a tall order for many people (and many of us have a very short attention span). Therefore, it is best to keep the messages succinct. Small displays and digital monitors are excellent tools for gripping your visitors’ attention.


Use authentic interactions in the form of conversations, tech elements, or gamification to close transactions. 

Step Three: Design a Unique Experience

The final step in planning for a successful trade show exhibition is to create a unique experience that will keep your audience longer in your space. The longer you can hold their attention, the more your chances of getting favorable outcomes.

Always use your goals as a guide to creating the experiences you want for potential customers. For example, if your goal is to generate leads, consider giving your audience the opportunity to keep coming back to your booth again and again. 

You could use product demonstrations in one session and invite visitors for a question and answer session later in the day. You can even use something as simple as a charging station for trade show exhibits to attract and qualify potential customers.

Final Thoughts

Exhibit design and development is not rocket science. However, if you don’t get it right, it might be difficult getting the type of result you want with your exhibits. Hopefully, you’ve found the tips in this article helpful and will implement them in your next trade show exhibit.